The Momodora series is simultaneously delicious and frustrating. The three original games feature some of the richest sprite art in indie games alongside smooth, lightning-quick gameplay. At the same time, they always feel like they're reaching to be something more, something just out of reach. Every entry represents a shift in level architecture and gameplay style, hiding a strange, sinister world, but the brief duration on them keeps it elusive. The fourth game, Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight, shifts styles yet again, offering a deeper and more polished glimpse into that world. It accomplishes a lot but still feels like it's reaching for more.
Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight is a prequel to the previous three games, though the formula remains mostly the same: a young priestess (here named Kaho) ventures forth from home to dive into a dungeon and lift a curse. Along the way, she battles hordes of enemies with her trusty leaf and meets a predominantly female cast of warriors, witches, and courtiers. The plot and pacing model is a direct descendant of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, a combat-based Metroidvania punctuated by lots of bosses and minibosses. It even uses a cat transformation as one of its mechanics, much like Symphony of the Night's bat and wolf souls.
In fact, Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight draws from a number of sources for inspiration and wears all of them on its sleeve. It may be a cardinal sin of game reviewing to compare a game to Dark Souls at this point, but the parallels here are more than obvious. This game's tone is significantly darker than the others in the series, with the central area being a cursed and dying medieval kingdom. Worldbuilding is revealed through item descriptions. Bells scattered around the world map function to save your game, warp you, replenish your health, and restore your items. Even the animation for using a health item is reminiscent of Souls games. Bosses are often sympathetic victims of circumstance, opposing you on the basis of misunderstanding or conflicting ideology rather than sheer villainy...
And then, of course, there's the big blue demon boss who's defeated by smacking her boobs around. I joke, but the Lubella fights are the most memorable parts of the game, likely because they feel the most original.
The gameplay is fast-paced, smooth, and responsive. Most common enemies can be taken out with simple combos, but bosses require you to be conscious of your spacing. Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight isn't the kind of game where you can breeze through the entire game taking potshots. You don't necessarily have to master the mechanics on normal difficulty, but you do need to utilize a wide array of items, dodges, and both melee and ranged attacks. This further encourages exploration, since collecting more items and money allows you to discover a wide variety of equipment. I only wish that there were better options for aerial combat. Kaho's jump attack can only be used once every time she jumps, so anytime you need to fight an enemy above you, you must constantly jump, swipe, and repeat.
The exploration mechanics are a little on the light side, but perfectly functional nonetheless. From the outset, Kaho has almost her entire movement arsenal. She can double jump, roll, attack with her leaf, and shoot arrows. The only major unlockable you get for opening new paths is the Cat Sphere, which lets you transform into a cat at will. It's neat at first, but it's very location-specific and doesn't have much use outside of finding new areas since the cat form can't double jump or use items. Aside from the transformation, most paths are opened by using keys to unlock doors around Karst City. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with this, but it does somewhat shatter the illusion of nonlinearity. If that's important to you, I recommend getting the Cat Sphere as early as possible and then backtracking to get the warp ability. This will open things up more and minimize backtracking.
Even though backtracking is a major element in Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight (it is a Metroidvania after all), it spruces things up a bit by hiding easter eggs and moving characters around the world map. Depending on where you are in the plot, characters may have died, fled to the outskirts of the city, or, in the case of one shy little spider, opened up shop in the catacombs. Dynamic changes like this make the world feel alive and significant. It forces you to take responsibility for your actions by showing that there are consequences outside of Kaho's personal stakes. The game is also relatively short for an exploration platformer, taking about four hours for a first playthrough, so it's nice to have a reason to return to earlier areas.
Visually, Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight is just as scrumptious as its predecessors. Character models are very attractive and animated with fluid articulation. The art style is singular to this series, where pixels are used less like blocks and more like grains. The sound design is suitably atmospheric. Plenty of areas don't even play music, preferring a quiet melancholy to upbeat jingles.
Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight is a very good game. It has no outstanding technical hiccups, so all my criticisms mostly amount to design choice nitpicks. The gameplay feels great and the moment-to-moment movement through areas provides a well-balanced challenge. At the same time, it feels hindered by its elements derived from other games and its limited approach to the Metroidvania formula. Its individuality brings out its strength, and with a solid title like this under their belt, I'm sure the developers will only continue to carve out their own style, improving on an already great foundation.
Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight was reviewed on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the publisher. It is also available on Xbox One and PC via Steam. Previous games in the series can be played via itch.io.
Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight borrows a lot of its elements from other game series, but does so in a manner that is still fun, effective, and sometimes quite beautiful.
- Smooth Gameplay
- Gorgeous Pixel Art
- Dynamic Plot Building
- Derivative Of Other Games
- Limited Movement Mechanics